Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Beta Reader Love-O-Meter

By Deb McLeod

The concept of beta readers came about through beta testers of software. Beta testers were those people who were willing to try the program and find the bugs. They weren’t experts, they were users.

It stands to reason that when you’re ready with your book, you’ll look for a few beta readers or book users to find the bugs, the holes and the “huh?” factor.

Lately, everywhere I teach, someone in the crowd will ask me about beta readers. They can come in all flavors and can be used at all stages of your book production. It’s likely you’re already using beta readers in one form or another.

I’ve created the Beta Reader Love-o-meter to illustrate who you want to read your book and when. 

First Draft – Loves You

Here is where you want to utilize those people that love you. You’re new to your project. You’re learning the story as you go. But you’d like some testing: Is my idea working? Is it interesting? Are the stakes apparent?

Here is where I would approach someone that loves me. My husband, the environmental demolition guy, is a great plotter, title thinker-upper and champion of me. When I’m in the early stages I still need someone to encourage me. To help me with the plaguing self-doubt that drives me insane and makes me a better writer.

Here I need someone who can see possibilities and doesn’t pester me with details. I need to think big and I need a reader who can think big too. Plot, stakes, story.

If you were going to hire a professional at this stage, here is where you look for a coach or a story developer.

Second Draft – Loves Writing

Once I have my story, once I know my characters, what’s at stake and how the story plays out, then I’m ready to go up the meter to find someone who loves writing. Here is where I might (though I don’t) go to a critique group. Take your work too early to a critique group and you run the risk of a groupthink book. 

Have you noticed that with the advent of e-publishing “different” is in? Don’t believe me? Read Donald Maass’ latest book.

The best way to approach this stage is to have some trusted writer/reader friends. Ones who know your style. You might notice I like to write those short sentences that aren’t really sentences. Once I had an agent interested in a book I wrote but told me I would have to revise it. When I was famous I could write the way I write. Until then I had to prove I knew the proper way to write. I think she thought I was lazy instead of writing how I hear it in my head. I was polite, but we parted ways. Thanks, but no thanks.

If a writer friend knows your style and what you’re going for they can be invaluable in helping you to know whether you’re spot-on or off the mark. When you use a writer who doesn’t know your work, or isn’t in some way a professional editor, you have to be more careful with feedback. Give a writer some work and it’s likely they’ll want to change it. Make sure the feedback is serving you and your style and not theirs.

If you use a professional here, now is the time to hire what’s called a deep editor or content editor. Find someone who can stay true to your style and craft knowledge and make editing suggestions that will give you a better book. They are looking for holes in the plot, ways to make the characters stronger and ways to raise the stakes.

First Final Draft – Loves Reading

At this stage you want to go further up the Love-o-meter and find those people that love to read. It’s really that simple. Find someone who loves to read your genre and ask them these types of questions:
  • ·         Were you able to put the book down? Where?
  • ·         Did the characters engage you?
  • ·         Did you fall in love with my hero?
  • ·         Did my villain become human?

If you Google beta readers you will find blogs that advocate long lists of questions to ask beta readers. I think those might be best reserved for the beta readers you cultivate. I’d be afraid if I posed a long list of questions to a reader that they would be thinking about the questions instead of the spell of the book. I want them lost in the read and I want to know where they were pulled out so I can figure out why and fix it. You will find your own way to work with your beta readers as you go.

Where do you find beta readers?

When you Google beta readers you will see there are sites for exactly that. Writers and readers register and match up. Goodreads also has a page for beta readers.

Are you in a book club? Listen to the comments. Who is there for the wine and cheese and the company and who is passionate about the book? You’re looking for that passion.

Look to your circle of friends. Do you talk plot with a friend after you go to a movie? Does that friend read?

I guarantee, unless they are really, really busy, if you approach someone who loves to read and ask if they’ll be a beta reader for your fresh manuscript, they will be flattered and will likely take the responsibility seriously.

Any read is a good read

I believe any read is a good read. If my readers can tell me where they stumbled or what was confusing and that’s all they can tell me, that’s really all I’m looking for.  

About the Writer:  Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach, co-founder and executive director of The Writing School. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist.